Ever since Virginia Tech learned it would face Michigan in the Sugar Bowl, the Hokies have had as much luck eluding questions about quarterback Denard Robinson as would-be tacklers have had corralling the Wolverines’ dynamic signal-caller the past few years. The good news, though, is that heading into Tuesday’s game at the Superdome, the Hokies’ defense will be the healthiest it has been in quite some time.
Though defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s unit is still without three opening-day starters because of season-ending injuries, cornerback Jayron Hosley is back to 100 percent after missing most of last month’s ACC championship game with a concussion and redshirt junior Alonzo Tweedy is expected to play extensively at whip linebacker for the first time since suffering a high ankle sprain in a win over Boston College on Oct. 22.
In Hosley’s case, though, this game carries extra meaning. He’s considering whether to forgo his senior year and declare for the NFL draft, even though he had a subpar year by his standards. A year after leading the nation with nine interceptions, Hosley hasn’t picked off an opposing quarterback since Oct. 1 and his draft stock has taken a hit.
Add in that Robinson and Hosley are from towns just 15 minutes apart in South Florida, and Hosley has plenty of motivation for this one.
“Having to sit out that [Clemson] game, it was hard but I look at this game as another opportunity for our team, for me to come out and re-prove ourselves,” Hosley said before the team’s practice at the New Orleans Saints’ practice facility in Metairie, La. “I’m gonna play with a lot of emotions on my shoulder, a chip on my shoulder, and it’s definitely gonna be a big game for our program and myself, so definitely gonna go out there and bring my ‘A’ game.”
When asked if Tuesday’s game would be his last at Virginia Tech, Hosley responded, “It may be.” He added that he has yet to receive any sort of feedback from the NFL draft advisory board. Earlier this month, though, Hosley and defensive backs coach Torrian Gray indicated he would likely declare for the draft regardless of what the draft advisory board tells him.
But even if it’s just for one more game, the Hokies are thankful to have Hosley after Clemson’s skill-position players scorched Virginia Tech’s secondary through the air. As safety Antone Exum put it, “when you look back on it, we missed him a lot out there.”
“I think when you take a player of his capabilities, it makes a difference having him in there,” Coach Frank Beamer said. “You feel like he can clamp down on a guy and take that guy out of the ballgame for the most part. I think any time he’s not in there, it’s different.”
But it’s Tweedy who has the potential to boost this defense even more. While he nursed a high ankle sprain, the Hokies were forced to play their nickel package far more than they would have liked during the stretch run of the season. That forced cornerback Kyle Fuller, who Foster has called the MVP of his unit this year, to move to whip linebacker and left backups like Cris Hill or Detrick Bonner outside at cornerback.
Tweedy played on special teams against Virginia and in the ACC championship, but indicated Sunday that he was only about 60 percent at that time. He says the time off between then and the bowl game has him feeling 95 percent healthy heading into the Sugar Bowl.
“I feel like I’m back. It’s nothing slowing me down,” Tweedy said. “I never had a high ankle sprain before, so I thought it was just a regular ankle sprain and I’d be back in the next week or two. But it took awhile to get better, at least four weeks.”
Tweedy, who has been clocked at 4.33 seconds in the 40-yard dash, had eight tackles against Miami before suffering his injury the very next week. On Sunday, though, Tweedy made his biggest statement yet when asked about Robinson’s speed.
“I’m faster than him,” he said. “I just know I am.”
Exum also believes he can match Robinson’s speed, and even took it a step further by mentioning Fuller and Hosley as players that “could give him a run for his money.”. . .
On an unrelated note, Beamer said Sunday no players missed curfew on New Year’s Eve. The Hokies already sent home place kicker Tyler Weiss for missing curfew on Thursday and saw both Exum and running back David Wilson suspended for one quarter in last year’s Orange Bowl for not being in their rooms at the appropriate time on New Year’s Eve.
Beamer said he spent the new year asleep in his hotel room until his wife awoke him to watch fireworks that were going off near the team’s hotel along the Mississippi River. The coach said he rarely stays up for midnight anymore.
“I’ve kind of got it down like ESPN. You watch a game and if you should fall asleep you can catch it in the morning and get the highlights in the morning and know exactly what went on,” Beamer said. “So I figured this thing out. New year’s last night, I wasn’t around for it, but I woke up this morning, turned on the TV and saw what happened in Hong Kong … New York City, New Orleans, I caught them all. I’m right there on top of it.”